Jun 19, 2024


There are numerous avenues for those who are truly passionate about health and fitness to break into the industry and build a career. However, simply being a dedicated gym-goer or a competitive physique athlete will not suffice. You first need to get yourself a recognised qualification.

But before you register for a course, consider that certain qualifications will offer you more opportunities than others. Often, the best career strategy requires building a broad base that will enable to you fulfill numerous roles within the sector, until you’re able to carve out a niche for yourself, or find a specific area in which you wish to specialise.


These so-called foundational courses prepare you with the basic knowledge and competencies you need to fulfill a number of job roles in the gym environment. In terms of the health and fitness sector, these generally consist of fitness instructor or Personal Fitness Trainer (PFT) certificates or diplomas.

Paul Mills. Managing Director at the Health & Fitness Professionals Academy (HFPA), says that a National Diploma in Fitness is a popular choice as it is an education programme that is offered over two years, with full-time, part-time and distance learning study options available.

“Students qualify as a Personal Trainer after year 1, and as an Exercise Specialist after the successful completion of year 2. Year 2 includes Special Population Groups and therefore increases the fitness professional’s scope of practice and earning potential.”


Legislation requires that fitness professionals obtain a minimum qualifications before they can legally be employed in the industry. A national certificate in fitness and a level one first aid certification are therefore prerequisites for anyone planning to build a career in the industry.

Gyms may also impose minimum qualification requirements. For example, the minimum requirement for PFTs working in Virgin Active gyms is a national certificate and/or diploma in fitness, and any other South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) endorsed or recognised PFT qualification, explains Piet Oosthuizen, national personal training manager at Virgin Active.

Once a foundational course has been completed, fitness professionals can enter the market through the more widely available positions of gym or fitness instructor, or personal trainer, as there is greater demand for these skills and qualifications.

An entry level fitness instructor position in a large gym chain like Virgin Active entails taking new members through induction, basic exercise supervision and offering group classes on the floor, picking up the weights and ensuring the health and safety of members in the club.


A learning institution like HFPA also offers an array of continuing education programmes and short courses, which include nutritionsport massage, group exercise instructor, Pilates, yoga, and various other group training options. However, many of these courses are only available to those who have obtained a more comprehensive foundational qualification, such as a certification or diploma.

These more specialised qualifications can help to compliment a aspiring fitpro’s CV, and it allows them to diversify or specialise in certain fields. This creates additional opportunities to generate revenue, and improves employability.

However, Paul adds that although a recognised and accredited qualification is enough to find work and start a career in the health and fitness industry, being really successful in this industry goes further than the qualification you have. “It has a lot to do with your personality and drive, and your ability to provide a good service, or something that people want and need.”

For more information on the various qualifications and short courses offered by HFPA, visit our All Courses page.

Paul Mills